New First-Year Seminar Course Sets Up Students for Success

Syracuse University’s First-Year Seminar is a new semester-long, one-credit course that is taken by first-year and transfer students. This course was formerly known as SEM 100. However, demands from the student body to restructure the course were heard by the University, and the new seminar was created. SEM 100 was meant to be a temporary placeholder until the course could be restructured by the First-Year Seminar 101 team.

SEM 100 used shared readings which were meant to create diverse conversations among students but Kira Reed says, “It is difficult to find a book that has something every student is going to identify with and relate to.” Consequently, the First-Year Seminar team conducted surveys and held focus groups to see what students were learning and what they could improve upon. 

Reed, associate professor of management at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management and provost faculty fellow on the First-Year Seminar team has been instrumental in the restructuring of this course which now includes more student discussions, real-life applications and even on-campus field trips. She explains that the course is comprehensive. “It’s meant to introduce students to the University, some of our traditions and history.”

First-year student Meghna Bharath ’25 says that the seminar is “a safe space…where you can talk about your problems and opinions.” 

The course introduces first-year students to Syracuse University’s unique history. Some of the histories that are taught and discussed in the seminar include the Haudenosaunee, #NotAgainSU, the Pan Am terrorist attack and women’s history. “Including these events is meant to expand what it means to be here in this space geographically and in this time of history,” Reed explains.

Olivia Reid ’25 says, “My favorite thing about First-Year Seminar is hearing about other people’s identities. It’s really interesting to learn more about them because everyone is so diverse at Syracuse.”

Reed’s favorite part of the course is the peer leaders who work alongside the instructors of the seminar. She says, “They seem to really know the energy and what the students are thinking.” This group of students has exemplified leadership skills, is involved in multiple organizations and had a high GPA, which impressed the First-Year Seminar team. 

Another part of the course that Reed is excited about is the on-campus field trips. Two hundred-and-ten sections of the First-Year Seminar will participate in these trips, which are organized in collaboration with various campus departments and schools ranging from the School/College offerings to Hendricks Chapel. Students will choose from a variety of trips offered and attend the ones that interest them the most. 

An extra-credit opportunity was offered to First-Year Seminar students on Sept. 17, 2021. An exclusive showing of “Baldwin vs Buckley: The Faith of our Fathers” was held at Syracuse Stage. This theatrical performance of a debate between civil rights activist James Baldwin and commentator William J. Buckley provided students with a historical event that can be related to conversations that still happen today and discussions held in the First-Year Seminar.

Students will also have a personalized First-Year Seminar with home college experiences. These are held at the individual students’ colleges where they will learn how the topics covered in First-Year Seminar intersect with their majors. Each college has different events such as mindfulness activities, film screenings and even a BBQ.

Reed hopes that students will make friendships in the First-Year Seminar, as well. “The retention data shows that you are more likely to stay in school if you have made a friend in the first year,” she explains, noting that she believes this gives students a feeling of belonging on campus. “The goal is for the students to stay with us for four years and really strive.”

Learn more about Syracuse University’s First-Year Seminar.

Rylee Pohancsek